Was the US Airways Tweet the most offensive social media #fail ever?

The US Airways comms department probably experience the worst working day of their lives last week, after one cack-handed employee managed to send out a tweet which was apparently meant to be a link directing a customer to a page on their site (a complaint form, ironically), but instead it was a link to a picture of a woman with a model aeroplane up her vagina. Yup, you read that correctly. Credit where credit’s due, it was creative, but probably rather uncomfortable.

Unsurprisingly, the picture went viral pretty quickly, and has left US Airways very red-faced, with their apology tweet still hanging around at the top of their Twitter feed.

It all started with a pretty routine chat with a customer, with US airways looking to resolve an incident (someone complaining on social media, who would’ve thought it!) involving an unhappy traveller.

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It all seemed to be going ok, although, if you ask me, US Airways could’ve done a better job with their social media customer service, but that’s a story for another day.

But then this happened. Imagine the most NSFW image you’ve seen, and then times it by 10, and you can imagine how much you don’t want to look at this picture. We’ll leave the rest up to your imagination.

US Airways apologised for what they called an “inappropriate image” (understatement of the year) and claimed that they are “investigating” the matter, although what there is to investigate isn’t clear as yet, if we already know how it happened.

So, obviously, a woman with a plane up her vagina isn’t exactly the kind of thing you want to see pop up on your Twitter news feed, and, seeing as people get offended by everything they see from waking up in the morning and going to bed at night, some people are going to find it pretty offensive, but is it the worst social media fail we’ve seen to date?

When you think about the fact that a number of brands have used natural disasters to try and peddle their products, a woman with a plane up her vagina doesn’t seem so bad. However, when you’re not directly associated with a natural disaster, but you’re directly affected by an offensive image, which one are you going to find more upsetting?

American Apparel, Urban Outfitters, and Gap all thought it would be a good idea to promote online offers on social media off the back of Hurricane Sandy. American Apparel felt sorry that people in affected states wouldn’t be able to get to the shops, so offered them a sweet 20% off to try and lessen the impact of a whopping great hurricane, whilst Urban decided it was free shipping that everyone needed, going with the hashtag #AllSoggy. Gap didn’t even bother to try and flog a deal, they just tried to get people to buy stuff online.

When it comes to social media fails, which is worse? The brands that (almost certainly) inadvertently tweet an inappropriate picture, or the ones whose moral compasses that are so off course that they try and make money from a natural disaster?

Whilst US Airways gaffe was, undoubtedly, inappropriate, is it really that offensive? When you consider that genitalia is a natural part of life (c’mon guys, we all have them), and that people can do with theirs what they will, the only real issue is that a brand account has is that they looked like that they were targeting that image at a customer. Compared to the amount of offensive content that’s on 4Chan, that picture was a walk in the park.

What we can probably all agree on is that US Airlines will be checking the links that they copy and paste in the future.


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Iona St Joseph

Written by Iona St Joseph

PR exec who likes finding funnies and cool stuff online. Print journalism graduate.

  • doyoudoanywings

    ‘Peddle’, ‘whose’, ‘undoubtedly’, ‘off course’ and ‘gaffe’ – and they’re just the ones I spotted on a first skim. A shame, because I genuinely like The Spin Alley and enjoy the commentary.

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